Is following a vegetarian/vegan diet the 'healthier' option?
Updated: Sep 30, 2019
Many women begin to adopt healthier lifestyles and eating habits as they think about starting a family. This is a wonderful time for a future mother to adopt a healthier lifestyle because health no longer only effects her, but also her baby.
These changes will then be translated to her child once they start eating solid foods. Since children adopt eating habits from their families very early on in life, this is a good thing! So lets break it down for you...
One of the difficult things is sorting through different diets---whether they are sustainable or not. More sustainable diets are the Mediterranean diet or modified paleo diets that aren't as restrictive. Those non-sustainable diets would be along the lines of the Keto-diet or Atkins, where you cut out whole food groups. That brings us to the question, what category do vegan/vegetarian diets fall into and how can you make them sustainable? Would going vegan or vegetarian help me to be healthier and help my baby grow?
This is a grey area because at minimum, a vegetarian diet cuts out meats (which does fall under a restrictive diet). Then you have lacto-ovo vegetarians that don't eat eggs or dairy and then further vegan diets that cut out any and all animal products. This lifestyle can be attainable with the help of a dietitian to focus on your needs and what you are lacking from your diet altogether. Many vegetarians and vegans need to be supplemented with B12 and others with calcium, vitamin D, and iron due to what is lacking in their diet. When pregnant or breastfeeding, these needs become higher and you may become more susceptible to deficiencies, which may cause complications during and after pregnancy.
For individuals that stop eating meat or other animal products altogether based on animal rights and animal cruelty--- do so to portray moral values, not based on health. Outside of these individual's reasons, others looking to consume vegetarian or vegan diets may be better off consuming a 'plant-based' diet which allows more wiggle room.
A plant based diet focuses on whole foods while consuming minimal amounts of animal proteins but still some, usually through fish or other lean meats. It also focuses on lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and unsaturated fats in place of saturated fats. While very similar to a vegetarian/vegan diet it does not completely cut out food groups. A plant-based diet allows consumption of certain foods in moderation so as to include all necessary vitamins and minerals into the diet.
If you do decide to enter into a vegetarian or even vegan diet there are some things that you should be aware of:
Just because a food is considered vegetarian or vegan, that does not automatically mean it is healthy. When looking at foods as it relates to health, we want a whole foods approach. Many foods that are considered vegetarian are processed and contain multiple ingredients. This means they most likely have higher amounts of saturated fats and sodium, which are not considered to be healthy. Even the health-food, coconut oil, is 82% saturated fats, comparable to butter. Also many of these constructed foods, such as plant-based burgers, are high in sodium and can be very pricy. Individuals are better off sticking to a turkey burger or beef patty that is a leaner cut and has been minimally processed.
Paying attention to the sides and what you put on your burger is also important. If you are putting cheese on a vegetarian patty with a bun made out of refined grains and no vegetables in sight, you actually might be doing yourself a disservice compared to a burger on a whole grain bun with lots of vegetables.
Vegetarian or vegan diets can be a great way for people to both express themselves and lead a healthy lifestyle, but some may need guidance from a registered dietitian. Others may not need to go to these levels of food restriction to lead healthier lifestyles and make better diet choices. At Mamas Maternal Health we can help guide you to make the right decisions about your diet to better your health as well as your baby's.
To find out how Mamas Maternal Health can help you, check out our website. Thanks for reading!
Until next time!
Mikayla and Cassie
Mamas Maternal Health Registered Dietitians/Lactation Counselors
Charlyn Fargo Ware (2019)., Weighing Sides in Meat Burgers vs. Plant-Based Burgers https://www.noozhawk.com/article/charlyn_fargo_ware_weighing_sides_in_meat_burgers_vs._plant_based_burgers
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